Of Two Spacecrafts’ Status Tonight — At Two Different Planets, Products Of Two Continents — And Questions Still Abound…

life-jupiter-mars-2016UPDATED: 10.20.16 @ 11:55 PM EDT — It now seems likely that the Schiaparelli lander made a hard landing on Mars. The ‘chute seems to have opened, and then detached early, and the retro-rockets fired for only a fraction of the expected duration. All of which — along with the radio silence — would largely point toward an obliterating, catastrophic crash on impact. Disappointing news, if it holds up — to be sure. Yet onward, as ever. [End, updated portion.]

Each of the missions I’ve recently been reporting upon — originating on two different continents — and circling two separate planets, have now had some non-trivial issues in the last 48 hours.

We will be watching keenly, come dawn tomorrow when ESA next updates on its lander. However, a stable orbit for the ESA ExoMars methane gas monitoring orbiter (larger craft, at right in the circle) has been a clear interplanetary space engineering victory. Now we wait for updates:

. . . .The ESOC teams are trying to confirm contact with the Entry, Descent & Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), Schiaparelli, which entered the Martian atmosphere some 107 minutes after TGO started its own orbit insertion manoeuvre.

The 577-kg EDM was released by the TGO at 14:42 GMT on 16 October. Schiaparelli was programmed to autonomously perform an automated landing sequence, with parachute deployment and front heat shield release between 11 and 7 km, followed by a retrorocket braking starting at 1100 m from the ground, and a final fall from a height of 2 m protected by a crushable structure.

Prior to atmospheric entry at 14:42 GMT, contact via the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), the world’s largest interferometric array, located near Pune, India, was established just after it began transmitting a beacon signal 75 minutes before reaching the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere. However, the signal was lost some time prior to landing.

A series of windows have been programmed to listen for signals coming from the lander via ESA’S Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Atmosphere & Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probes. The Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) also has listening slots.

If Schiaparelli reached the surface safely, its batteries should be able to support operations for three to ten days, offering multiple opportunities to re-establish a communication link. . . .

That said — as to the NASA/JPL mission, it seems Juno will just do its science over longer orbital periods, tacking around Jupiter at 53 days per orbit. Overall, post debate, I am soaring now (even my Cubbies are up — and up big — tonight!) — right along with a sublime shepherd moon that re-emerged, in full. Let us hope these two do too — as to scientific and engineering capabilities. Fully. Smiles. . . .

नमस्ते

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